My 3,293-kilometer journey through the Baltics has given me a relatively good idea of what the three Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have to offer a traveler. The journey began and ended in the Latvian capital Riga.
There are no spectacular nature experiences to do here, but you have a lot of forest that you can walk in, rivers to paddle on and a long coastline that can offer both swimming and wonderful solitude. Cultural life also has a lot to offer.
What attracted me to explore the three countries was to visit the sights that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as the old districts of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius, the Curonian Spit with its mighty dunes (Lithuania) and Kernave (Lithuania) with their archaeological remains (Lithuania). But I also wanted to come to places like the “Cross Hill” in Lithuania where there are over 100,000 crosses placed by pilgrims, walk among the city of Sigulda Castle, to visit ancient villages, in particular, Lithuania and the mighty castle of Lithuania which played an important role during Sweden’s heyday.
Anyone who is interested in architecture, old urban environments, places with historical connections and ancient villages has a lot to look at in these countries.
I liked traveling in the Baltics for the cities with the old urban environments, the beautiful architecture, the old villages and that it is often still a slower pace here than at home in Sweden.
What was less pleasant on this trip was that it seemed as if very many Balts were still mentally left in the “old Soviet society”, which shows in the fact that people are rude, rude, buffalo and unhelpful.
An example of helplessness was what I came across in the small Latvian village of Mazirbe, where a clerk refused to describe the road to a sight because SHE did not think it was anything to see! The worst unpleasantness I encountered during the trip was the meeting with the tourist-hating policeman Gintautas Stepanafas at the entrance to the national park on Kuriskanäset in Lithuania. First he fined me for driving over a solid line that does not exist and then he showed that he wanted to cut my throat and “all tourists”. I was very surprised by his behavior because the only thing I did was stop to pay the fee to the national park! I have saved his police report as a “souvenir” from Lithuania. The first day I was in Lithuania, my umbrella was stolen from my backpack at the market in Klaipeda. Cheers Lithuania!
I have never had so few contacts with the locals during a trip like this! Though I’m not particularly sorry about that given how unpleasant many Balts were!
In the very near future I will have visited 90 countries, all over the world, and have been lucky to meet many nice people, with the people in the Baltic as an exception. Regretfully I met a lot of very rude, unpolite and unhelpful people during this trip. The worst one was the Lithuanian policeman Gintautas Stepanafas who fined me for crossing a line that does not exist !!! It seems, regretfully, that many persons still act as they did during the “Soviet period”. They should consider that they left this era and are now members of Europe! My first day in Lithuania someone stole my umbrella from the backpack. Lithuania, I love you!
Estonia history in brief
According to aristmarketing, the country we today call Estonia was originally inhabited by half-nomads, who lived by hunting and fishing. At the time of the birth of Christ, the land began to be cultivated and then an advanced manufacture of metal and ceramics emerged. During the Viking Age, trade flourished. In 1187, the Estonian Vikings are believed to have destroyed the city of Sigtuna in Sweden. After this, Estonia’s political history came to be dominated by foreign powers’ struggle for control of trade and trade routes in the northern Baltics. At the beginning of the 13th century, the land of the Estonians was divided between Danes in the north and German crusaders and swordsmen in the south.
In the 14th century, after a major Estonian uprising, the Danes sold their land to the German Order. The Germans thus became the only ones to rule over Livonia, a state formation that encompassed the whole of present-day Estonia and northern Latvia. In 1186, Livonia got its first Christian bishop.
Reval, today’s Tallinn, was developed around a Danish-built castle on Toompea, Domberget. Reval came early to join the Hanseatic League and was dominated during the Middle Ages by German and Scandinavian traders and craftsmen. The Estonian rural population became serfs peasants under German nobility.
In the early 1520s, the Reformation reached Estonian territory, which led to the Estonians’ conversion to Lutheran doctrine. After the Russian Tsar Ivan IV’s attack in 1558, German rule ceased. After that, the Swedes took over power and conquered ever larger parts of the country. In 1645, the island of Saaremaa, Ösel, was also conquered. Societies with a Swedish population had existed in the coastal areas of northwestern Estonia since the 13th century. Sweden used the area for food imports, but the conditions of the serf farmers improved towards the end of the Swedish era. The Swedes reformed the courts, introduced village schools and colleges and set up printing houses. In 1632, Gustav II Adolf founded the University of Dorpat (modern-day Tartu).
The Swedes’ defeat against the Russians at Poltava during the Great Nordic War in the early 18th century led to Sweden losing power in the Baltics. The Estonians came under Russian supremacy at the Peace of Nystad in 1721. The Baltic German nobility continued to rule locally. The conditions of the common people deteriorated again and total servitude was introduced.
The Estonians’ national consciousness emerged during the latter part of the 19th century and their criticism was directed at the nobility as well as the Russian government. The national movement had its center in Tartu. At the same time, at the end of the century, a regular Russianization of the administration, the school system and the church took place.
Some important years in Estonia’s modern history
When the tsardom fell, Estonia liberated itself from Russia.
The declaration of independence on 24 February was followed by a German occupation, which, however, ended in November with the German collapse of the First World War.
After a successful war of independence against Russia and a German Free State, Estonia was able to make peace in Tartu, where Russia recognized Estonia’s independence and renounced all claims to Estonian territory for “eternal time”. Estonia got a democratic constitution, carried out a radical land reform and raised the level of education
In the first elections, Parliament got a clear leftist mark, but the political focus was later shifted to the right
The Communist Party, with the support of the Soviet Union, made a failed coup attempt in Tallinn. The party was banned but participated in later elections under various guises
In the late 1920s, the crisis in the world economy, Estonia’s vulnerable position and recurring government crises embedded a fascist-colored movement, the so-called Freedom Warriors (Vapsid)
Vapsid pushed through an authoritarian constitution. On the pretext of wanting to protect democracy, the acting president, “national elder” Konstantin Päts, decided to dissolve parliament, quell the opposition and impose press censorship.
A new democratic constitution came into force
At the outbreak of World War II, Estonia declared itself neutral, but by then Germany and the Soviet Union had just concluded a non-aggression pact, the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In a secret additional protocol, Eastern Europe had been divided into a German and a Soviet sphere of interest, with Estonia ending up in the Soviet Union.
In the autumn, Estonia was forced to conclude a defense agreement with the Soviet Union and lease territories for Soviet military bases.
In June, accusing the regime in Moscow Estonia, together with Latvia and Lithuania to prepare a military attack on the Soviet Union and demanded that the government would be replaced with a Soviet-friendly cabinet
Soviet military marched and organized elections were held in July
At the beginning of August, Estonia formally joined the Soviet Union, thus beginning a long-running political repression.
1941 – 1944
After the German occupation, Estonia was recaptured by the Soviet Union in
Mass deportation of ester to, among others, Siberia Initiated
In June, more than 10,000 people were arrested and abducted
1945 – 1953
After World War II, the Soviet occupying forces in Estonia carried out a brutal reshuffle of the country; industry was nationalized and agriculture was forcibly collectivized. The heavy and chemical industry as well as energy production were expanded. Political repression increased and deportations of esters continued until the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin (1953). This took place partly under armed resistance from the partisan group Skogsbröderna, which were active until the mid-1950s.
The years under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1953–1964) were marked by greater openness and some decentralization of the economy. But at the same time, the position of Russia was strengthened at the expense of Estonian. Russian-speaking workers immigrated en masse, recruited by large Soviet military-industrial companies established in the northeastern part of Estonia and over which the Estonian authorities lacked transparency and control.
During this decade, the ideological austerity tightened again and towards the end a new Russian campaign was carried out.
An Estonian school protest against the Russians was crushed
When Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his perestroika, renewal or reform policy, political repression began to wane
in Estonia. At the same time, there was a debate about the survival of the Estonian language and culture and about the need to recapture Estonian history after decades of systematic Soviet falsification of history.
On August 23, a mass demonstration was organized against the Additional Protocol to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the existence of which was still denied by Moscow, and against accession to the Soviet Union.
In February, the 70th anniversary of Estonia’s first declaration of independence was celebrated.
In the spring, the Estonian Popular Front (Rahvarinne) was formed in support of Gorbachev’s reform policy. It was the first openly active political movement in the Soviet Union alongside the Communist Party
In June, the “singing revolution” was born, when hundreds of thousands of people gathered for nightly national demonstrations in the singing field in Tallinn
Shortly thereafter, the conservative Estonian Communist leader Karl Vaino was deposed and replaced by the more liberal Vaino.
In August, the Estonian National Independence Party was formed, which was more radical than the Popular Front and the first political party in the Soviet Union alongside the Communist Party.
On September 11, about 300,000 people, 25% of the country’s population, gathered in the singing field in Tallinn, where the political leaders openly demanded for the first time that Estonia’s independence be restored.
On November 16, Estonia’s Supreme Soviet, the parliament, adopted a declaration of sovereignty
The decision forced to enter the Soviet Union in 1940 was revoked and the Communist Party’s monopoly of power was revoked in
1990. In March, free elections to Estonia’s highest Soviet were held. The Popular Front and other groups that advocated for independence won 78 of the 105 seats. The newly elected parliament appointed Arnold Rüütel chairman, announced that a transition period to independence had begun, and elected Edgar Savisaar, the leader of the Popular Front, as prime minister. The national name from the interwar period, the Republic of Estonia, was reintroduced as well as the blue-black and white flag.
Despite the Soviet leaders’ refusal to discuss Estonia’s liberation, the process did not lead to intervention by Moscow.
In a referendum in March, the demand for independence was supported by more than 75% of the country’s population.
In connection with the coup attempt in Moscow in August, Russian military vehicles rolled into Tallinn and Russian soldiers occupied the TV station. Parliament was allowed to convene, however, and adopted on 20 August a resolution on full and immediate independence for Estonia.
When it became clear that the coup in Moscow had failed, the Estonian government ordered the dissolution of the country’s Communist Party and an end to the Soviet security service’s activities of the KGB in Estonia.
The country’s independence was quickly recognized by the outside world, including Russia, and Estonia became a member of the UN
The separation from the Soviet Union led to economic crisis and energy crisis in Estonia and in January Prime Minister Savisaar was forced to resign. He was succeeded by Tiit Vähi, who led a transitional government. Vähis implemented a currency reform, led by the Governor of the Riksbank, Siim Kallas, and the Estonian krona, the kroon, replaced the Russian ruble. It became an important symbol and an important instrument in the building of independent Estonia.
In the elections in the autumn, the bourgeois electoral union Fosterlandsförbundet won. Party leader Mart Laar was appointed prime minister
In the autumn presidential election, the incumbent head of state and former communist Arnold Rüütel received the most votes, but not his own majority. Parliament therefore had to elect a new president who became the former Foreign Minister Lennart Meri
Mart Laar’s government embarked on intensive reform efforts to dismantle state socialism and introduce a market economy, which led to severe hardships for the population. The Russian minority protested that those who came to Estonia during the Soviet era did not receive unconditional citizenship and voting rights
the inhabitants of the Narva area demanded political autonomy in local referendums
Mart Laar was defeated in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. He was accused of acting arbitrarily in government currency transactions. The new Prime Minister was Andres Tarand
The parliamentary election was won by Tiit Vähi’s Samlingsparti, which formed an alliance with a number of rural parties. Some Russian-speaking parties also entered parliament through the Our Home is Estonia electoral bloc
. He was replaced by Siim Kallas
Tiit Vähi was also forced to resign. Mart Siiman was given the responsibility to lead a weak minority government
The parliamentary election was mainly about the gap between a successful young urban population and the rural poor pensioners. The Center Party won the election with the promise of subsidies to farmers and tax breaks for low-income earners. President Meri instead gave the task of forming a government to the Fosterlandsförbundets Mart Laar
Parliament elected Arnold Rüütel as new president